Video Game Violence Lawsuit Could Set Precedent
This week the Supreme Court announced it would hear a case to decide whether the state of California has the right to refuse the sale of violent video games to minors. The law in question was passed in 2005 and imposes a $1,000 fine on retailers found selling violent video games to people less than 18 years of age.
The United States
Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco found the law
to be in breach of the First Amendment, which protects free speech. The
Supreme Court's review has the potential to redefine how the First
Amendment protects violent images, as opposed to other media such as
violent books, music or other forms of art. The Court plans to hear the
case, Schwarzenegger v. Video Software Dealers, in the fall.
The history of legislating violent video games has been a perpetually
controversial one; federal judges have already blocked similar laws in
Louisiana, Minnesota and Michigan. In 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the Seventh Circuit declared the Illinois law unconstitutional,
claiming the law was now "sufficiently narrowly tailored," despite
pressure from parents groups and social organizations that claim
violent video games lead to aggressive, anti-social behavior. Numerous
studies, including a report from the U.S. Surgeon General in 2001,
found "media effects" rank far below other causes of violence in
teenagers and young adults. In reference to the California law, signed
by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, the Entertainment Software
Association and the Video Software Dealers Association took the state
to court and successfully blocked the law from being enforced.
The sales of Mature- and Adult Only-rated games to minors has been an
issue of much concern to parent groups and public officials, and bills
have been submitted to government agencies, including the Video Games
Ratings Enforcement Act introduced to the US House of Representatives.
The proposed legislation would have required an ID check for Mature and
Adults Only-rated game purchases, but neither bill was passed into law.
Other proposed bills in states around the country were stopped because
of First Amendment violations.
California Sen. Leland Yee, who authored the original California bill, released a short audio statement
saying he was "thrilled" with the Supreme Court's decision, calling it
a "balanced bill" that doesn't "trample" First Amendment rights while
protecting minors. Although no law mandates ID checking for games with
adult content, a 2008 secret shopper survey done by the Federal Trade
Commission shows that video game retailers have voluntarily increased
ID verification for M- and AO-rated games, and sales of those games to
underage potential buyers have been reduced from 83 percent in 2000 to
only 20 percent in 2008.